Kidneys, Our Bodies’ Filter

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March 20, 2014


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This post is available in: Spanish

If you’ve ever experienced a kidney infection or passed a kidney stone, you know not to take these valuable organs for granted, as you likely do if your kidneys are functioning properly.

For most who have suffered with these ailments, the pain is unforgettable.  And you likely learned a valuable lesson: Take care of your kidneys, the body’s natural filtration system.

“Pay attention to your pee,” advises urologist Yekutiel Sandman, M.D., affiliated with Baptist Hospital and South Miami Hospital.  “The volume and color of your urine can give valuable clues about the health of your kidneys and your overall health.”

Dr. Sandman says bright yellow or dark, cola-colored urine could indicate problems ranging from dehydration to more serious kidney problems.

“If people are drinking four to five water bottles a day, they should be well-hydrated,” he said.  “Their urine should be a pale yellow, and they should be urinating the same volume as they’re drinking – about 2 liters a day.”

As a urologist and urologic surgeon, Dr. Sandman usually sees patients after a kidney problem has been detected and treatment is needed.

Benign kidney problems that require medication or non-invasive treatments include kidney infections, or renal inflammation, kidney stones or kidney cysts, which are water bubbles in the kidneys.  Renal insufficiency, often caused by high blood pressure or diabetes, may also be assessed initially by a urologist, who may recommend the care of a nephrologist to manage through dialysis.

When tumors are present in the kidneys, biopsies or surgery may be required, Dr. Sandman says.

“All tumors used to be treated as cancerous, but improvements in technology allow radiologists to biopsy smaller masses through punctures in the skin of the back, using only local anesthesia,” he said.  “A thorough discussion of the best initial step with your doctor is imperative.”

For large tumors or those found to be cancerous, partial or full removal of the kidney through surgery is often necessary.  Dr. Sandman says technology has improved these surgeries as well.

“Where we used to have to remove all or part of the kidney through a large open incision, urologists now use laparoscopic and robotic approaches to improve cancer control and decrease recovery times for the patient,” he said.  “We now have more than one tool in our toolbox to treat kidney disease and kidney cancer.” At Baptist Health hospitals, Dr. Sandman and his colleagues perform more than 100 of these procedures a year combined.

With these minimally-invasive approaches, small incisions are made to pass the instruments needed to remove a portion or all of a diseased or nonfunctioning kidney.

“We strive to keep as much of the kidney intact as we can,” Dr. Sandman said, “because when the entire kidney is removed, patients may have an increased chance of cardiovascular disease.” A fact backed by research cited in the Journal of Urology.

Urologists like Dr. Sandman also use these minimally-invasive approaches to clear obstructions in the ureter, or tube leading from the bladder to the kidney, which can affect proper kidney function.

As for preventing kidney disease or malfunction, Dr. Sandman advises people to avoid large amounts of red meat, sodas and salty foods, which can contribute to a build up of wastes in the body that the kidneys must work harder to eliminate.  The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends people with chronic kidney disease, or CKD, seek the advice of a registered dietitian to keep their nutritional needs regulated and prevent losing too much weight or consuming too many proteins or salts.

And, in case you’re wondering whether cranberry juice helps your kidneys, Dr. Sandman says that the acidity of the drink can help in some cases, but for some kidney stones, it may do more harm than good.

“There may be some benefits of cranberry juice for bladder infections more so than for kidneys,” he said.  “The key is hydration with water to help filter out impurities in our bodies.  If you want to increase the acidity and flavor of your water, lemon or lime juice added can be beneficial.”

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